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Ebenezer Christian Center food pantry
Ebenzer Christian Center in Sacramento, California, discovered that the hunger that existed in its community wasn't limited to the kids in their children's ministry. The church now distributes enough groceries for 11,000 to 14,000 meals a month.

When Karen Abrego first came to Ebenezer Christian Center (AG) in Sacramento, California, six years ago as an associate pastor, she was a very experienced children's worker and filled with confidence in her ability to reach children for Christ. 

But her confidence was quickly tested and then frustrated. She couldn't seem to get the children's attention, much less get them to settle down. Behavioral issues were rampant. Did the kids just not want to be there? Was it a lack of respect? What was she missing?

"I decided to kill them with kindness," Abrego says. "So, it was an Easter Sunday, and we made silver-dollar blueberry pancakes for the children." Moments later, the light went on for Abrego.

"When the children started to eat, I remembered hearing that sound before . . . it was this moaning sound as they ate — it was the same sound the malnourished children I had cared for in El Salvador made when they were fed," she says.

Albrego realized that many of the children were coming to church hungry.

Ebenezer Christian Center, a member of the Assemblies of God Northern Pacific Latin American District (NPLAD), is located in a low-income, high-crime part of south Sacramento. As Abrego investigated further, she discovered that the nearby elementary school was a Title I school and that 98 percent of the kids attending were on a reduced-rate or free-meal program. 

"The kids were coming to school and receiving breakfast and lunch five days a week, but on the weekends they were food poor," she says. Ironically Sacramento is known as a rich agricultural area, but the people living in the church's neighborhood didn't have the funds or transportation to readily access it — so they did without.

Pastor Dan and Dionna Garza
Pastor Dan and Dionna Garza

Understanding the need, Abrego met with Senior Pastor Dan Garza, and the church began serving healthy snacks to the children on Sunday mornings. They then partnered with a food bank to provide food for families through the church twice a month.

"In February, due to budget cuts, the elementary school lost the support of its food bank," Abrego says. "We went to our food bank and asked if they would pick up the school and its families — they agreed as long as we provided the volunteers." 

Ebenezer Christian Center has an attendance of 350-400. As many of those attending come from the community and understand (sometimes personally) the desperate need of so many of the neighborhood families, the church confidently agreed to the food bank's request for volunteers.

The church now gives away enough food for 11,000 to 14,000 meals each month.

Efraim Espinoza, director of AG Office Of Hispanic Relations, states, "Ebenezer Christian Center, under the leadership of Pastor Dan Garza, serves as a great testimony that the Assemblies of God wants to reach out in compassion to those around it." 

Although some may assume that because the church is a Hispanic church, its community is strictly Hispanic, Abrego quickly clarifies that the area is a "mixing pot" of multiple ethnicities, including Russian, Ukrainian, Filipino, Hispanic, Hmong and Middle Eastern — to name a few. 

Providing healthy snacks for the children on Sunday mornings has been transformational for the church as the children are now attentive. In addition, the food bank has made a huge impact on the church's community. The staff now calls their twice-monthly food distribution from the church their "Friday morning congregation."

Pastor Karen Abrego
Associate Pastor Karen Abrego with two gentlemen from the Ukraine who the church now ministers to through its food pantry.

"The difference between what we do and other food pantries do is that we pray over and with people who come," Abrego says. "The people ask us to pray for their needs. We recently had one woman come rushing in, not worried that she was going to miss getting her groceries, but that she had missed prayer!"

The efforts the church has made to supply groceries to the community has torn down walls, introduced people to the church, and built relationships between the community and church volunteers and staff.

"Now, I walk down the street and people are calling out to me, 'Hey PK [Pastor Karen]!'"

The school has also communicated its thankfulness, saying that children are better behaved and are able to learn more easily without the distraction of hunger. One teacher shared how thankful she was that she could direct parents who were needing food for their families to the church's food distribution at the school. 

NPLAD Superintendent Jesse Galindo affirms the efforts of the church by saying, "We need more pastors like Pastor Dan [Garza] that will empower and support their staff to fulfill the Great Commission through their specific ministry in the local church."

In addition to food ministry, Ebenezer Christian Center also has a ministry to the homeless, taking clothing to the homeless communities every other month; they have brought in registered nurses to give free flu shots; they've helped families register for healthcare; and opened their doors for all kinds of events to meet needs. 

"We're not a mega-church," Abrego says, "but we're consistently chipping away at the rock of poverty and making a difference in families and lives. We've become the hub of our community . . . , and isn't that what the church is supposed to be?"

 


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Upcoming national Japanese Conference offers "restoration"

Wed, 16 Jan 2013 - 4:04 PM CST

Ito Hiroshi
Hiroshi

Pastor Ito Hiroshi knows a little something about restoration. Two years ago, a massive tsunami struck Japan - Hiroshi was there and witnessed the unimaginable destruction first hand. He's also been there the last two years, helping to restore the country physically - through his work with Convoy of Hope - and rebuild a nation spiritually - through prayer and the gospel message.

The second annual Japanese Conference, coming to Springfield, Missouri, March 12-14, 2013, will have the theme of "restoration" and feature Pastor Hiroshi as a keynote speaker. In addition to sharing graphic images of the intense destruction the tsunami left behind in Japan, Hiroshi will also offer evidence of how God is working through the devastation to reveal Himself to a formerly resistant culture.

"Pastor Hiroshi will also speak on how God can restore our own personal life, no matter what the damage," says Yoriko Yabuki, who with her husband, Daisuke, are appointed Japanese Assemblies of God missionaries and are lead hosts of the conference. "His personal testimony of how God healed his difficult health condition as he helped those suffering around him is very inspirational."

Hosted at Central Assembly of God, where the Yabukis serve as international pastors, the conference will also serve as an opportunity for pastors to hear about what it would take to form a Japanese Fellowship akin to the existing 21 language/ethnic fellowships. Assemblies of God Ethnic Relations Director Scott Temple will host an informational meeting on the topic.

Other speakers for the conference include: Dr. James Bradford, AG general secretary; Byron Klaus, president of AG Theological Seminary; Dale Crall, pastor of Calvary Campus Church in Carbondale, Illinois; Jeff Peterson, pastor of the host church, Central Assembly of God; Steve Smith, missionary to the Japanese in Michigan; the Yabukis; and Sandi Bradford, wife of Dr. James Bradford, who will lead a women-only session.

"This event is targeted to the Japanese pastor who has U.S. credentials, the U.S. pastor who leads a Japanese ministry and those who have a God-given desire to reach Japanese and their Americans families for Christ," Daisuke Yabuki says.  "We also welcome non-Christian Japanese people and we will have breakout sessions just for them to help them understand the gospel

Although the conference is officially geographically known as the "Midwest" Japanese Conference, the conference is intended to be national in scope. Registration cost for adults prior to March 1 is $80 and includes three onsite meals. Children ages 6-12 are offered an activity program for $40. Nursery care is available for children 5 and under for $25. Lodging is available at the Central Bible College dormitories at a rate of $15 per person per night. The registration cost will increase to $100 beginning March 1.

For more information about the conference, including deadlines, lodging, schedules and registration forms, see the event website.

Authors: Dan Van Veen

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